How Fast Will Those Trains Go?

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Wendel Cox looks at what exatly will come of Pres. Obama’s new grants to various high speed rail projects.

The administration is planning on giving Florida $1.25 billion to build a Tampa to Orlando high-speed rail line. The train on that route is expected to hit speeds of 160 mph and to make a trip between the two cities in about 45 minutes.

This will be helpful if you happen to live in the Orlando Station and have business in the Tampa Station. But most travelers will be better off driving.

It’s about 90 minutes by car, though it can be less depending on your home and destination. Once you factor in the time it would take to travel to the station, park, walk to the platform, and wait for the train to depart and also pick up a rental car on the other end, driving would probably be faster.

Other rail projects aren’t much better. One project involves a line connecting Portland, Ore., and Seattle, Wash. The administration wants to spend $600 million on the line to shave about 10 minutes off of a three-and-a-half hour trip (which it would do by raising average speeds to 51 mph, from 49 mph).


In the other corridors where the administration plans to spend money—such as Charlotte to Raleigh and Chicago to St. Louis—projected train speeds won’t be much faster than what the fastest trains in the 1930s were able to do. Some trains then topped 80 mph. As a result, car trips will normally be as fast door to door, and they will be far less costly than taking the train and then renting a car.

Wendell was co-author of Reason’s in depth analysis of the California high speed rail plan.